|Review: Flames of Hell - Fire and Steel|
|Fire and Steel|
Label: Deathcrush Records
Year released: 2013
Originally released in: 1987
Review online: June 21, 2022
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
for:Fire and Steel
Rated 4.5/5 (90%) (4 Votes)
With the Icelandic Black Metal scene being among the most prominent and celebrated in the underground these days, I figured it’d be as good a time as any to take a look at the very first Black Metal record to come out of the country, arguably its first Metal recording period if you don’t count proto-Metal act Icecross. Flames of Hell are a project that has very little information available outside of the fact their one and only album, Fire and Steel, was recorded in a freaking YMCA that eventually kicked the band out due to the nature of their music and had roughly 50 copies made and distributed among friends and an art dealer, making it one of the most valuable and sought-after albums in the underground. Several unofficial re-releases have been done over the years, including a digital one by some label called Deathcrush Records that apparently closed down in 2006 yet uploaded this in 2013. It really doesn’t get more ridiculously kvlt than this release, and the reputation alone would be more than enough to sail it past any negative thing I’d have to say about it, but as it turns out, I don’t have many of those at all.
Flames of Hell are all about the chaotic and messy beginnings of the first wave of Black Metal akin to the likes of Venom and Hellhammer, though I’d posit there’s even a bit of Cirith Ungol in their doomier moments and with the deranged vocals that sound like the mutated bastard offspring of Udo and Tim Baker. The playing is sloppy, the recording every bit as awful as you’d expect considering the circumstances, the songwriting is somehow both basic and excessive, the vocals are out of control and don’t bother with petty things like key or pitch, and it could not be any cooler if you cleaned it up a single bit. The real key to making this sound work is having enough energy and attitude to sail you past the many technical failings of your sound, and the reason a lot of bands imitating the approach these days fail to do it is because you can’t really fake this kind of enthusiastic dedication to being evil and frenetic no matter how much you may technically suck, you just kind of have to do it. Flames of Hell were of the old breed, though, where there was practically nothing to fake off of, giving us garbled but deliriously entertaining numbers like the opening title track, the ballistic "Evil", the lurching, overlong yet still compelling 11-minute epic "Heroes in Black"....damn it, I’m just reading the track list at this point, because every song is awesome despite how bad most of them arguably are.
It may not seem like it on the surface, but Flames of Hell are actually pretty reflective of the modern Icelandic scene, as both emerged out of taking obvious influences and wearing them on your sleeve while doing something novel and interesting with them. The key difference, of course, is that while the modern sound is steeped in technicality and grim atmosphere, Fire and Steel is the result of young punks bashing around and having fun while trying to sound as diabolical as possible, and almost by accident made something that stands out as a distinct spin on a then recently established formula as well as a landmark of their scene. Unrestrained, uncompromising, and unparalleled.
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